Exclusive: How the SEAL raid on Somalia went bad


The team of less than two dozen Navy SEALs from Seal Team 6 huddled in one fast boat and headed toward the Somali shoreline under the cover of darkness in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Three more small boats with additional SEALs flanked the assault team’s craft, to provide back-up and assist with the planned extraction of an al Shabaab warlord named Ikrima.

According to multiple U.S. military sources, the lead boat landed, and the assault team hit the beach near the Southern Somali town of Barawe, headed for the fortified seaside compound of their target. U.S. intelligence had determined that Ikrima, one of two terror suspects targeted by the military in simultaneous raids thousands of miles apart this weekend, planned the terror group’s operations outside of Somalia. 

The SEALs entered the compound and took the positions they had selected based on the intelligence collected in advance of the raid.

Then a lone al Shabaab fighter walked out into plain view, smoked a cigarette, and went back inside, one source familiar with the details of the raid said. The fighter played it cool, and gave no indication that he had spotted the SEALs. But he came back out shooting, firing rounds from an AK-47 assault rifle.

Soon the American commandos were under siege from the warlord’s well-armed fighters. Gunfire swept toward their positions and grenades began to rain down, multiple military sources said.

Several of the SEALs could see Ikrima through the windows of the compound, but couldn’t get to him. The SEALs continued to take fire while trying to find a way to get closer to their target.

And then the children came into the pictures on their scopes.

The suspect was barricaded and heavily protected by armed men, and now children were intermingled among the fighters and in danger of dying. Then the whole town of Barawe began to erupt and more armed fighters were seen heading for Ikrima’s compound. Soon there would be fewer than two dozen Americans against hundreds of Somalis.

The SEALs opted to withdraw.

U.S. military sources said they did so in stages, making their way down the beach, asking and waiting for further orders. The team, sources said, was still considering the option of returning to fight some more.

As air support was called in, the SEALs headed back to the beach and to their boat. A command decision had been made that the prize was not worth the risk of casualties to civilians and SEALs.

The SEALs escaped from Barawe without any deaths or injuries, according to sources and officials. And the target they sought to capture is still at large.

The SEALs were members of the same unit that raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in 2011, killing the al Qaeda leader.

“After the past few years and the bin Laden raid, everyone thinks these operations are easy – they’re not,” said a senior military official familiar with the operation. “The area doesn’t have the same support network for us as Afghanistan and Iraq.”

The SEALs were “amazed” no one was hurt in the Somalia operation, said the official.

In a statement, Pentagon press secretary George Little said that U.S. military personnel had conducted a targeted operation against Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, a Kenyan of Somali origin. The statement referred to him as a close associate of al Qaeda operatives involved in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya and the 2002 attacks in Mombasa that killed Kenyans and Israelis.

“While the operation did not result in Ikrima’s capture,” said the statement, “U.S. military personnel conducted the operation with unparalleled precision and demonstrated that the United States can put direct pressure on al Shabaab leadership at any time of our choosing.”

In a simultaneous operation 3,000 miles away, U.S. special forces whisked al Qaeda suspect Abu Anas al-Libi off the streets of the Libyan capital of Tripoli. He will be taken to the United States to stand trial for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the officials said.

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How much did Snowden take? At least three times number reported


British authorities revealed Friday that NSA leaker Edward Snowden took at least three times as many highly sensitive documents as previously reported, and possibly far more.

At a court hearing in London the government told a judge that David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was carrying 58,000 documents related to British intelligence on electronic devices when he was stopped and searched at Heathrow airport on August 18. The government also said it believed the documents had been “stolen” from Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British counterpart of the NSA.

Greenwald, who has been helping Snowden disseminate the documents he took from U.S. government computers, had previously said that Snowden had downloaded 20,000 documents. As previously reported by NBC News, the U.S. government has not yet been able to determine the scope of what Snowden took.

In a signed statement revealed at Friday’s hearing, a detective superintendent with the Counter-Terrorism branch of the Metropolitan Police said that the material on an “external hard drive” seized from him “discloses approximately 58,000 UK documents of the highest level of classification.”

The government was able to decrypt some of the files using a code found on a piece of paper carried by Miranda, but is struggling to decrypt the rest.

“So far only 75 documents have been reconstructed” into a legible format, said the statement. “This represents only a tiny fraction of what was seized.”

The statement, dated Tuesday, said that the drive contains approximately 60 gigabytes of data, of which only 20 gigabytes have been so far been “accessed.”

“The remainder is encrypted,” said the statement, using a form of encryption known as True Crypt, “which renders the material extremely difficult to access. … [O]fficers are working with experts from other agencies to try and obtain access to that material.”

In a separate statement to the court, Oliver Robbins, Britain's deputy national security advisor for intelligence, chided Miranda for carrying a password on a piece of paper. "The fact that ... claimant was carrying on his person a handwritten piece of paper containing the password for one of the encrypted files," said Robbins, "is a sign of very poor information security practice."

Robbins also said that the information seized from Miranda was "highly likely to describe techniques which have been crucial in life-saving counter-terrorist operations, and other intelligence activities vital to UK national security."

A former U.S. official familiar with the case said "significant amounts" of intelligence documents from U.S. allies -- particularly the UK and Australia -- were taken by Snowden from the NSA.

Miranda had challenged the right of British authorities to retain the material seized from him, but at Friday’s hearing the judge agreed to let the government continue examining the files. Scotland Yard has launched a criminal investigation of Miranda.

Miranda’s lawyers said they considered it a partial victory that the judge said the government has seven days to establish there is a threat to national security.

British authorities detained Miranda when he stopped in Heathrow while traveling from Berlin back to Rio de Janeiro, where he and Greenwald live. Miranda had been in Berlin visiting filmmaker Laura Poitras, who has been working with Greenwald to publicize Snowden’s leaked documents. Miranda was delivering documents to Poitras and retrieving documents for Greenwald, according to Greenwald.

Miranda was detained and questioned for eight hours under Section 7 of the U.K.’s Terrorism Act. British authorities seized multiple electronic devices from Miranda.

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